The Voice is a Broken Heart
I used to want to take a large butcher knife and hack away at my body parts. I hated my fat stomach. I also hated my flabby arms and chin. I would stand sideways in front of the full length mirror and violently squeeze the flesh on my belly, fantasizing what I would look like without it. I was a chubby girl. When I was about eight years old I started sneaking Ho Ho's and Oreos into my room. My mom was just beginning to get sick and I didn't like how that felt so I ate. My hair was a curly brown mess that never looked like Farrah's in the Flex shampoo commercial, no matter how hard I tried.
In The Beauty Experiment, Phoebe Baker Hyde starts her story with painfully familiar self loathing as she makes her way through a year in Hong Kong as a new mom. When she catches glimpses of herself in mirrors and storefront window reflections, what she calls "the Voice" goes on abusive rampages aimed directly at her appearance and her womanhood. The Voice compares her to the more fashionable women she encounters who get full nights' sleep, do their hair every day and wear designer shoes.
One day, while looking at her little daughter Hattie, the "myth of youthful feminine perfection" and the Voice that continually berated her for not living up to that standard came "screaming to life". She wanted more for her daughter than to think she had to present herself like "a gift wrapped set of reproductive organs". (I hear ya, sister!) Would Hattie, in time, "become unconvinced of her own unique beauty" from facing the same public messages and inner voice that were making her mother crazy?
The experiment itself was planned to last a year and the author had a long list of things she decided were the rules; what she would and would not do. No makeup, only moisturizer and sunscreen. No jewelry or lipstick or nail polish. Only bar soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrush, comb and nail clippers. She has almost an entire awesome chapter on shaving, or actually on not shaving. What we shave, why we shave. It's fascinating. It reminded me of the entire year I went without shaving my legs, just out of protest of the whole damn ordeal. I'll never forget a female massage therapist saying to me, "um yeah what's up with the legs?" "Screw you", I thought.
It took me nearly 30 years to begin to fully deal with my own abusive voice. "You'll never be good enough. You don't matter. You're fat. You're ugly." Realizing that this script wasn't the truth, but rather a set of false beliefs born from a broken heart, began my healing. Understanding that the lies came from really poor translations of losses that I was too young to process correctly led me to really question the script. Because my father died when I was thirteen, I was abandoned and forsaken. Because my mother was sick, I didn't matter and others would always come first. Because my hair didn't look like Farrah's, I was ugly and unwanted. Because my body wasn't perfect, I would never be good enough. For anything. Was that really the truth?
The author says that her experiment not so much silenced the Voice as much as got her to grow up and get real. Initially she thought she could "tune out the Voice and be rid of the myth". But what she found was her inner voice could be reprogrammed gently, firmly and compassionately; one step at a time. I have found the same thing. Like the author's, my own work doesn't lead to silence, it leads to Truth. The Voice doesn't just stop saying, "You don't matter, you defective-never-good-enough-parentless-fat-girl." It changes. It says you do matter. You have a unique voice and you are beautiful. It says that on the good days, anyway. Like the author, my experience is gradual and it seems to be about not missing the beauty of the present moment just because old scripts start running.
Some of the reviews for this book were awful, like this one. "Ugh. The author is a narcissist with low self esteem and bad taste. She is constantly seeking validation and spends a lot of time just obsessed with herself." And this one, "Phoebe Baker Hyde has self esteem issues that she tries to blame on an obsession with beauty products and clothes. The book is mostly her rambling about why she isn't happy, and rather than facing her personal issues, she blames the media, her circumstance, her social scene, blah blah blah." I didn't feel that way. I loved it. I thought her experiment took guts (I'm not giving up makeup for a year!) and her conclusions were fascinating. Perhaps some people get through childhood with the knowledge that they are enough and they don't have to battle for it. But for those of us girls who do have to fight, this writer speaks for all of us.